June 23, 2023
By Michael Collins, Teravana
Michael has worked as Grants Manager since 2021 and Strives to tell Teravana’s story to the world.
For whatever reason, most of us who commute to school or work, make lunch, and fall asleep watching a show are not driven to plant trees. But there are stories of individual men and women who have sparked tree-planting movements or even reforested parts of the world entirely by themselves. One of those people is Jadav Payeng, a man who spent 30 years of his life planting trees and building a manmade forest in India.
The “Forest Man of India” resurrected the Mulai Reserve, a forest on the Majuli Island in the Brahmaputra River near Assam in northeastern India. He prevented drastic soil erosion and the forest from being taken over by the river. He planted over 500 hectares of bamboo and all kinds of trees. Wildlife now occupy the land, including Bengal tigers, elephants, and rhinoceros.
There are other manmade forests, including the largest human-made forest in the world known as the Great Green Wall in China. But according to a global forest survey by an international team of scientists, 15 billion trees are cut down each year. Measuring that against the roughly 2 billion trees planted each year, and we are left with a deficit that eats into the estimated 3 trillion trees on Earth. The encouraging flip side of these numbers is that many ecologists and scientists report that by planting over a trillion trees, we can reverse climate change.
Seeing the wonders of trees and all they provide to our planet, another individual has come along with a vision to reforest the world. David Milarch, founder of Archangel Ancient Tree Archive (AATA) has said, “I’ve dedicated a large part of my life locating the oldest and largest things on earth—trees—and attempted to clone them to preserve their genetics, to help the future of this planet. That’s why I’m here.” A near-death experience helped David set his life on a new path and called on him to populate the world with champion trees. He has taken up the challenge and works every day to see it through.
AATA, an organization formed by David and his family over twenty-five years ago, believes in planting a wide variety of our old oldest and largest tree species. But according to Milarch, because sequoias and redwoods grow faster than other trees and sequester the most carbon and fortify the surrounding forest, these American treasures will best pay it forward, changing the world for his grandchildren and their grandchildren.
The book titled The Man Who Planted Trees by Jim Robbins tells David’s story, along with what makes trees—all types of trees—so powerful. In the book, we learn of trees cleaning and treating the water millions of people drink, fixing great swaths of shoreline erosion, and changing the health and population of large pockets of marine life. But the story is mainly about the years of dedication the Milarchs have put into climbing to the tops of our tallest trees and restoring and replanting old-growth forests.
AATA’s early experimentation with propagation led to scientific success in regenerating some of the oldest and largest trees in existence, an accomplishment the scientific community had thought impossible. AATA’s website features 128 scientific papers, research materials and books, supporting the value provided by old-growth trees. AATA’s scientific advisors include Dr. Bill Libby: Emeritus Professor, University of California-Berkeley; and Diana Beresford-Kroeger: Royal Geographic Society, world-recognized author, medical biochemist and botanist.
Teravana is partnering with AATA to create a model for archiving and propagating the genetics of our oldest and largest trees, in order to protect endangered old-growth genetics and benefit the health and ecology of forests, watersheds and communities in Northern California.
Milarch has said, “A tree that lives a thousand years might know a thing about survival.” Archangel created the first successful clone of Giant Sequoia, Coastal Redwood and other champions. They cloned the Methuselah, a 7,000-year-old bristle cone pine that is reportedly the world’s oldest tree. They were able to preserve the genes of the Waterfall Tree, one of the largest Giant Sequoias, before it perished in the Castle Fire in Sequoia National Forest. Because the tree was propagated before it died, the tree lives on, and AATA planted several saplings next to the stump of the tree. They have planted over 160,000 champion trees in various sites, including Puget Sound, WA, Eugene, OR, Sequoia Crest and the Presidio, CA; historical sites, such as Mount Vernon, Monticello, the U.S. Capitol, Teddy Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill; and living archives in U.K., New Zealand, Ireland and elsewhere, with a goal to plant 100 million trees by 2050.
Archangel Ancient Tree Archive: CHAMPION TREES ARE THE ANSWER. https://www.ancienttreearchive.org/
Ehrenberg, R. Global forest survey finds trillions of trees. Nature (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature.2015.18287
Jadav Payeng: The man who planted an entire forest by himself. 2018. Interesting Engineering. https://interestingengineering.com/science/jadav-payeng-the-man-who-planted-an-entire-forest-by-himself
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